IMC - India meets Classic presents.... Classical Film music - Interview with Rinki Roy Bhattacharya (Film maker & writer)
IMC - India meets Classic presents.... Classical Film music - Interview with Rinki Roy Bhattacharya (Film maker & writer)
IMC: I may welcome in Hamburg for the India Week 2009: Rinki Roy Bhattacharya for a very interesting film week which is part of the event structure during the India Week especially with a package of jeweleries from films of her father Bimal Roy (07/12/1909-01/07/1966) one of the most reputated Indian film makers who started his own career already midst of the 30s.
And under this aspect of this review I am especially interested about the aspect of the music in Indian films, especially about Indian Classical music. Therefore first I may thank you for your time coming here for the talk for our interview her in the Metropol Cinema (Metropolis Kino). And maybe first you can give us a little bit a review about the film week you have been here for now one week. I think it’s today the 9th, the nearby last day of the 10 days event of the Hamburg India Week 2009…
RRB: Its been wonderful coming to Hamburg especially for the India Week, especially to present my fathers work to the German audience who are discovering a man who made films more than 50 years back. Its always a privileges to introduce my father’s films to different culture and he seems to be crossing over very successfully and people are enjoying his films and they are very moved by some of his films quiet strongly.
IMC: Under this aspect of the review which we can date as a key milestone maybe to that time of 1935 which was that year your father Bimal Roy was assistant for the movie Devdas (1955)… I think first like to describe that situation early these times if we proceed the further work of your father he worked together with one – even one of the biggest composers in film music SD Burman (10/01/1906 – 10/31/1975). What was that time correlating shortly before the Indian democracy and independency ?
RRB: I think in the early films of my father which was then a tradition even Indian cinema a lot Tagore music – Rabindra Sangeet – was preferred. Because they were renowned composers like Rai Chand Boral.
R.C. Boral (1903-11/25/1981) who was the recipient of the 1st life time award called “Dadasaheb Halgedamos“ (Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1978) – the highest award in India. And also Pankaj Mullick (composer / music director: 05/10/1905-01/19/1978) simultaneously with them. SD Burman was a very, very popular playback singer of those days, he migrated to Bombay in the late 40s… and we migrated to Bombay in early 1951. So it was inevitable that somebody who had same background as my father from New Theatre Studio (New Theatres Pvt. Ltd.) would be a chosen composer for my father’s films. But he came in later, before he came Salil Chowdhury (1922-1995) actually joined my father, his 1st production called “Do Bigha Zamin” (1953, Two acres of Land).
IMC: Our listeners maybe we should explain that this kind of traditional orientation – based on Indian Classical music – SD Burman on his own was educated in Indian Classics. He had teachers like Krishna Chandra De (1893-1962), one of the great composers that time and same he was educated by the Sarangi player Kahifa Badal Khan. So these kind of composings of that time had some concrete reasons to be educated on a very high level in Indian Classical music, right?
RRB: Yes, that’s very true. – They were highly trained in classical music, they knew all the folk music of India and this helped them in composing something which later became their signatures in music which was both classical, folk, traditional. All these elements came to very well successfully composed as these works later, SD Burman’s own compositions. So he combined this very, very successfully.
IMC: … and beside this part of the compositonal aspect, this composer SD Burman and even other big composers used high trained, high qualified singers, so called film background singers that time like Asha Bhosle (born 1933).
RRB: Yes, Asha Bhosle and of course also Lata Mangeshkar (born 1929). Then Manna Dey (born 1st May 1919) who came from the renowned family of K.C. Dey (1893-1962) who was one of the greatest composers in Bengal, his nephew. It was great to see so many talents in Bombay, from Bengal and Maharastra coming to the film music which was extremely, extremely wonderful for listeners. Because I would say they became classics on their own right. Film music of that period of the 50s. I would consider them to be classics, film classics, classical film music. Because the kind of composers you see then were all extremly talented with background of classical, huge body of classical training like Naushad (Naushad Ali: 12/15/1919 – 05/05/2006) and other composers. It was amazing to see that kind of music in films which doesn’t happen anymore (unfortunately).
IMC: … and as I have seen during this film week that by this time area you already talked about the Golden Era, the heritage of Indian film. Is this right ?
RRB: Of course, that is easily considered the best period in film, in music, in acting, even in film techniques. That was a very, very important era in Indian film, that’s the 1950s. It’s easily considered as that, yes.
IMC: Beside this traditional orientation even S.D. Burman used for example the poetric form of the Ghazals which is an ancient structure going back to the Arabian era of the 6th century. It’s not just a period which finished on its own because under the aspect of the music part we had still a progress with following composers, even your father cooperated later.
RRB: The other composers who came into his cinema I would say Shalil Chowhdry was a very important figure of that period. He came from a musical family he was encouraged to. He was greatly inspired by folk music of Nepal. Because he grew up in the forest areas and he could hear the flute of the folk Nepalis flute which influenced him and he has acknowledged that he was deeply inspired by these sounds, of the forest sounds and the purity of the Nepalis flute which was not a Metal flute, which was a Bamboo flute. And these were some of his most favorite inspirations in composing later. Also he was a radical poet, a progressive man who wrote critics of political and social critics of our culture. He was very deeply involved with the passions he would go, and stay with them, learn their music. So all that came into his very, very rich heritage that he invibed… and later of course he learnt Western Classicals like Bach and Mozart. And he brought in those elements into his music. And also in the background music not just the songs. Even in the background music you see that and then when he went to Moscow he heard a lot of the Romanian folk songs and Russian Folk songs, Russian Marching songs which has also been later integrated into his music. So that gives it a totally new dimension to Hindi film music on the period.
IMC: Salil Chowdhuri used on his own traditional aspects same in the compositorial part same under the aspect of the use of traditional instruments like you said the bamboo. Even he used very traditional instruments as the Esraj which was that time more an accompanying instrument. And under this aspect as you described that he tried under the knowledge of his education in Western music this dialogue between East and West.
RRB: Interestingly Salil Chowdhury also made prominence to instruments like Sarangi which were earlier not considered. Sarangi was used only for Ghota songs (marriage), songs in the brothels where the women sang and entertained men. And he brought in that in a lullaby. Its beautiful. Its opening notes of Sarangi, which you hear of one of the greatest Sarangi players Ustad Ram Narayan (born 1927) who plays in this and if you also remember people like Hari Prasad Chaurasia (born 1938), Shivkumar (born 1938), the Santoor player they were all playing in film music. These whole classical performers… Zakir Hussain (born 1951), Zakir Hussain’s father (Ustad Alla Rakha – 1919-2000), they were all part of the film tradition at that time, at the 50s. And also with this other instrument which is called Tarsanait, which is a string instrument which is from Bengal. Sometimes Veena was used, but not so much. But I would say there were lot of violins in the orchestra, huge number of violin players. And all kinds of music went into this rich body of work in the Hindi film music at that time.
IMC: If you talk about this orchestral aspect we look today at Bollywood movies which hyped through the last five years through Europe that’s my experience 2004 they came to Germany on big private TV channels as big block busters and if even you look at the modern productions that mostly you don’t hear a kind of orchestra anymore. It seems its more a very progressive, modern music which is used. Do you see still a chance for the kind of orchestral compositions, maybe beside these very typical commercial oriented Bollywood movies ?
RRB: Well, this is been commented on about the whole sound that you hear now. There is no melody in these sounds. Even a composer like A.R. Rahman (born 1966) who is one of the top composers that one who gave music in Slumdog Millionaire he also laments the fact that you don’t hear the pure sounds of music which he would like to hear sometimes. Maybe he is one composer whom we can look up to because he is aware of that tradition and he really enjoys that kind of music. So there are younger composers like him who are aware of this fact.
But the whole thing is right now the recording is so different. Do the track first and then you call in the playback artist. It’s not like it used to be in the older, in the 50s at least where the orchestra and the playback artist were in the same recording theatre doing their recording together. Its not so longer the case. Now it’s very different form of recording I believe.
I have not attended any of the recent recordings but this is what I have heard from Asha Bhosle that she would go and record her track, Boy George (born 1964) would record his track and the whole orchestra does some other days. So then they are mixed.
That kind of personal input, all what you see in like a yesterdays concert. People, the musicians sitting aside of the singer. It’s a different kind of sound you hear all together. And there is much more emotional input in that, some different kind of performance. So I don’t think, that’s there anymore and I doubt it will come back into the film music at least.
IMC: Under this technical process in the globalized world and under production conditions where you can deliver and transfer files from continent via internet and under the aspect of the commercialization that productions want to be cost-efficient it will be very difficult to go back.
So maybe there is an other option which gives us the hope that the Golden Era of high qualitatively Indian film has a chance. What do you see about genres which are beside the Bollywood hype ? – I think there are still genres as we know it now during the last years like documentaries which have a really good chance to establish even in cinemas again… that such a trend maybe even exist in India or will come soon in India ?
RRB: I am afraid in India the whole marketing system of film is entirely different and its based on the feature film industry, not on the documentary. We do have documentary organisations who support documentary directors. I belong to some of them like the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA). And there is a films division of India which has the largest collection of documentaries ever made in India and its from the time before independence. But there is no hope of seeing them in the theatres. There is no theatrical release of these wonderful documentaries that we have. They could have a run, maybe a short run. But they are not allowed to. The marketing system in India or the distribution system doesn’t consider documentary important or serious enough to be marketed… that things. Which is a pity I think.
IMC: Might be then less to expect these films which you present now during the India Week 2009 as I know that the people are behind very engaged and try to bring these wonderful movies out of the archives in India. Is there a chance to see these movies in the future maybe even as a DVD production or as a kind of release or re-launch?
RRB: Oh yes, of course. I would hope so. I would certainly hope so because I think these black & white classics that you are watching in Metropolis could have a big chance to survive on the DVD market, definitely. Also in very specialised television channels in Europe. They definitely have an audience. Why ? – I mean they have an audience like my father’s film which is running today “Mathumati” (1958) was recently shown on Channel 4 in U.K. They remain quiet popular in U.K. maybe because there is a diasporic audience. But I think one has to take them beyond diasporic audience and present them to European audiences. I hope that happens and lets all work towards that end we can see them revived.
IMC: I wish you good look. Same I know that you are very active within the Bimal Roy Foundation (Bimal Roy Memorial and Film Society), I hope you can make these targets to realisation very soon. I would enjoy it from my side. Thank you for coming, give me the time for this talk. It was very interesting. And we will take from our side the chance to play the music on our channel. Thank you for coming.
RRB: Thank you so much for inviting me. It was a pleasure. Thank you.
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